Your Face Is Not a Bar Code:
Arguments Against Automatic Face Recognition in Public Places

Philip E. Agre
Department of Information Studies
University of California, Los Angeles
Los Angeles, California 90095-1520

Copyright 2001 by Philip E. Agre.

Version of 10 September 2003.
5700 words.

An abridged version of this article appeared in Whole Earth 106, Winter 2001, pages 74-77.


Given a digital image of a person's face, face recognition software matches it against a database of other images. If any of the stored images matches closely enough, the system reports the sighting to its owner. Research on automatic face recognition has been around for decades, but accelerated in the 1990s. Now it is becoming practical, and face recognition systems are being deployed on a large scale.

Some applications of automatic face recognition systems are relatively unobjectionable. Many facilities have good reasons to authenticate everyone who walks in the door, for example to regulate access to weapons, money, criminal evidence, nuclear materials, or biohazards. When a citizen has been arrested for probable cause, it is reasonable for the police to use automatic face recognition to match a mug shot of the individual against a database of mug shots of people who have been arrested previously. These uses of the technology should be publicly justified, and audits should ensure that the technology is being used only for proper purposes.

Face recognition systems in public places, however, are a matter for serious concern. The issue recently came to broad public attention when it emerged that fans attending the Super Bowl had unknowingly been matched against a database of alleged criminals, and when the city of Tampa deployed a face-recognition system in the nightlife district of Ybor City. But current and proposed uses of face recognition are much more widespread, as the resources at the end of this article demonstrate in detail. The time to consider the acceptability of face recognition in public places is now, before the practice becomes entrenched and people start getting hurt.

Nor is the problem limited to the scattered cases that have been reported thus far. As the underlying information and communication technologies (digital cameras, image databases, processing power, and data communications) become radically cheaper over the next two decades, face recognition will become dramatically cheaper as well, even without assuming major advances in technologies such as image processing that are specific to recognizing faces. Legal constraints on the practice in the United States are minimal. (In Europe the data protection laws will apply, providing at least some basic rights of notice and correction.) Databases of identified facial images already exist in large numbers (driver's license and employee ID records, for example), and new facial-image databases will not be hard to construct, with or without the knowledge or consent of the people whose faces are captured. (The images need to be captured under controlled conditions, but most citizens enter controlled, video-monitored spaces such as shops and offices on a regular basis.) It is nearly certain, therefore, that automatic face recognition will grow explosively and become pervasive unless action is taken now.

I believe that automatic face recognition in public places, including commercial spaces such as shopping malls that are open to the public, should be outlawed. The dangers outweigh the benefits. The necessary laws will not be passed, however, without overwhelming pressure of public opinion and organizing. To that end, this article presents the arguments against automatic face recognition in public places, followed by responses to the most common arguments in favor.


Arguments against automatic face recognition in public places

* The potential for abuse is astronomical. Pervasive automatic face recognition could be used to track individuals wherever they go. Systems operated by different organizations could easily be networked to cooperate in tracking an individual from place to place, whether they know the person's identity or not, and they can share whatever identities they do know. This tracking information could be used for many purposes. At one end of the spectrum, the information could be leaked to criminals who want to understand a prospective victim's travel patterns. Information routinely leaks from databases of all sorts, and there is no reason to believe that tracking databases will be any different. But even more insidiously, tracking information can be used to exert social control. Individuals will be less likely to contemplate public activities that offend powerful interests if they know that their identity will be captured and relayed to anyone that wants to know.

* The information from face recognition systems is easily combined with information from other technologies. Among the many "biometric" identification technologies, face recognition requires the least cooperation from the individual. Automatic fingerprint reading, by contrast, requires an individual to press a finger against a machine. (It will eventually be possible to identify people by the DNA-bearing cells that they leave behind, but that technology is a long way from becoming ubiquitous.) Organizations that have good reasons to identify individuals should employ whatever technology has the least inherent potential for abuse, yet very few identification technologies have more potential for abuse than face recognition. Information from face recognition systems is also easily combined with so-called location technologies such as E-911 location tracking in cell phones, thus further adding to the danger of abuse.

* The technology is hardly foolproof. Among the potential downsides are false positives, for example that so-and-so was "seen" on a street frequented by drug dealers. Such a report will create "facts" that the individual must explain away. Yet the conditions for image capture and recognition in most public places are far from ideal. Shadows, occlusions, reflections, and multiple uncontrolled light sources all increase the risk of false positives. As the database of facial images grows bigger, the chances of a false match to one of those images grows proportionally larger.

* Face recognition is nearly useless for the application that has been most widely discussed since the September 11th attacks on New York and Washington: identifying terrorists in a crowd. As Bruce Schneier points out, the reasons why are statistical. Let us assume, with extreme generosity, that a face recognition system is 99.99 percent accurate. In other words, if a high-quality photograph of your face is not in the "terrorist watch list" database, then it is 99.99 percent likely that the software will not produce a match when it scans your face in real life. Then let us say that one airline passenger in ten million has their face in the database. Now, 99.99 percent probably sounds good. It means one failure in 10,000. In scanning ten million passengers, however, one failure in 10,000 means 1000 failures -- and only one correct match of a real terrorist. In other words, 999 matches out of 1000 will be false, and each of those false matches will cost time and effort that could have been spent protecting security in other ways. Perhaps one would argue that 1000 false alarms are worth the benefits of one hijacking prevented. Once the initial shock of the recent attacks wears off, however, the enormous percentage of false matches will condition security workers to assume that all positive matches are mistaken. The great cost of implementing and maintaining the face recognition systems will have gone to waste. The fact is, spotting terrorists in a crowd is a needle-in-a-haystack problem, and automatic face recognition is not a needle-in-a-haystack-quality technology. Hijackings can be prevented in many ways, and resources should be invested in the measures that are likely to work.

* Many social institutions depend on the difficulty of putting names to faces without human intervention. If people could be identified just from looking in a shop window or eating in a restaurant, it would be a tremendous change in our society's conception of the human person. People would find strangers addressing them by name. Prospective customers walking into a shop could find that their credit reports and other relevant information had already been pulled up and displayed for the sales staff before they even inquire about the goods. Even aside from the privacy invasion that this represents, premature disclosure of this sort of information could affect the customer's bargaining position.

* The public is poorly informed about the capabilities of the cameras that are already ubiquitous in many countries. They usually do not realize, for example, what can be done with the infrared component of the captured images. Even the phrase "face recognition" does not convey how easily the system can extract facial expressions. It is not just "identity" that can be captured, then, but data that reaches into the person's psyche. Even if the public is adequately informed about the capabilities of this year's cameras, software and data sharing can be improved almost invisibly next year.

* It is very hard to provide effective notice of the presence and capabilities of cameras in most public places, much less obtain meaningful consent. Travel through many public places, for example government offices and centralized transportation facilities, is hardly a matter of choice for any individual wishing to live in the modern world. Even in the private sector, many retail industries (groceries, for example) are highly concentrated, so that consumers have little choice but to submit to the dominant company's surveillance practices.

* If face recognition technologies are pioneered in countries where civil liberties are relatively strong, it becomes more likely that they will also be deployed in countries where civil liberties hardly exist. In twenty years, at current rates of progress, it will be feasible for the Chinese government to use face recognition to track the public movements of everyone in the country.


Responses to arguments in favor of automatic face recognition in public places

"The civilized world has been attacked by terrorists. We have to defend ourselves. It's wartime, and we have to give up some civil liberties in order to secure ourselves against the danger."
We must certainly improve our security in many areas. I have said that myself for years. The fallacy here is in the automatic association between security and restrictions on civil liberties. Security can be improved in many ways that have no effect on civil liberties, for example by rationalizing identification systems for airport employees or training flight attendants in martial arts. Security can be improved in other ways that greatly improve privacy, for example by preventing identity theft or replacing Microsoft products with well-engineered software. And many proposals for improved security have a minimal effect on privacy relative to existing practices, for example searching passengers' luggage properly. The "trade-off" between security and civil liberties, therefore, is over-rated, and I am surprised by the speed with which many defenders of freedom have given up any effort to defend the core value of our society as a result of the terrorist attack.

Once we transcend automatic associations, we can think clearly about the choices that face us. We should redesign our security arrangements to protect both security and civil liberties. Among the many security measures we might choose, it seems doubtful that we would choose the ones that, like automatic face recognition in public places, carry astronomical dangers for privacy. At least any argument for such technologies requires a high standard of proof.


"But the case for face recognition is straightforward. They were looking for two of the terrorists and had photographs of them. Face recognition systems in airports would have caught them."
I'm not sure we really know that the authorities had photographs that were good enough for face recognition, even for those small number of suspects that they claim to have placed on a terrorist watch list. But even if we grant the premise, not much follows from it. First, the fact that the authorities suspected only two of the nineteen hijackers reminds us that automatic face recognition cannot recognize a face until it is in the database. Most hijackers are not on lists of suspected terrorists, and even if those particular hijackers had been prevented from boarding their planes, seventeen others would have boarded.

More importantly, security procedures at the Boston airport and elsewhere were so shoddy, on so many fronts, that a wide variety of improvements would have prevented the hijackings. If you read the white paper about the hijackings from the leading face-recognition company, Visionics, it becomes clear that face recognition is really being suggested to plug holes in identification systems. Terrorist watch lists include the terrorists' names, and so automatic face recognition is only necessary in those cases where the government possesses high-quality facial photographs of terrorists but does not know their names (not very common) or where the terrorists carry falsified identification cards in names that the government does not know. In fact, some of the terrorists in the recent attacks appear to have stolen identities from innocent people. The best solution to this problem is to repair the immensely destructive weaknesses in identification procedures, for example at state DMV's, that have been widely publicized for at least fifteen years. If these recent attacks do not motivate us to fix our identity systems, then we are truly lost. But if we do fix them, then the role that automatic face recognition actually plays in the context of other security measures becomes quite marginal.

That said, from a civil liberties perspective we ought to distinguish among different applications of face recognition. Those applications can be arranged along a spectrum. At one end of the spectrum are applications in public places, for example scanning crowds in shops or on city streets. Those are the applications that I propose banning. At the other end of the spectrum are applications that are strongly bounded by legal due process, for example matching a mug shot of an arrested person to a database of mug shots of people who have been arrested in the past. When we consider any applications of automatic face recognition, we ought to weigh the dangers to civil liberties against the benefits. In the case of airport security, the proposed applications fall at various points along the spectrum. Applications that scan crowds in an airport terminal lie toward the "public" end of the spectrum; applications that check the validity of a boarding passenger's photo-ID card by comparing it with the photo that is associated with that card in a database lies toward the "due process" end of the spectrum. The dangers of face scanning in public places (e.g., the tracking of potentially unbounded categories of individuals) may not apply to applications at the "due process" end of the scale. It is important, therefore, to evaluate proposed systems in their specifics, and not in terms of abstract slogans about the need for security.


"All of the people in our database are wanted criminals. We don't store any of the images that our cameras capture, except when they match an image in the database. So the only people who have any cause for complaint are criminals."
The problems with this argument are numerous:

(1) We have to trust your word that the only people whose images are stored in the database are wanted criminals, and we have to trust your word that you throw away all of the images that fail to match the database.

(2) You don't really know yourself whether all of the people in the database are criminals. Quality control on those databases is far from perfect, as the database of "felons" that was used to purge some Florida counties' electoral rolls in 2000 demonstrated.

(3) Even if the only people in the database today are criminals, the forces pushing us down a slippery slope of ever-expanding surveillance are nearly overwhelming. Once the system is established and working, why don't we add alleged troublemakers who have been ejected from businesses in the past but have never been convicted of crimes? Then we could add people with criminal records who have served their time, people who have been convicted of minor offenses such as shoplifting, people with court orders to stay away from certain places, prisoners, parolees, gang members, soldiers, people with court summonses for minor offenses such as unpaid parking tickets, foreigners who have outstayed their visas, all foreigners in general, people with a history of mental illness, people who are wanted as material witnesses, missing persons, children whose parents are worried about them, elders whose children are worried about them, parents who are behind on their child support, employees of the businesses where the system is operating, rich people who are afraid of being kidnapped, alcoholics who want to be kept out of bars, and other individuals who have signed contracts agreeing to be tracked. And once those people are added, it is then a short step to add many other categories of people as well.


"In effect you're saying that face recognition won't work, and that we should ban it because it will work so well. You are contradicting yourself."
Oh come on. Face recognition will work well enough to be dangerous, and poorly enough to be dangerous as well.


"Public is public. If someone happens to notice you walking in the park, you have no grounds for complaint if they decide to tell someone else where you were. That's all we're doing. You don't have any reasonable expectation of privacy in a public place, and I have a free-speech right to communicate factual information about where you were."
A human being who spots me in the park has the accountability that someone can spot them as well. Cameras are much more anonymous and easy to hide. More important is the question of scale. Most people understand the moral difference between a single chance observation in a park and an investigator who follows you everywhere you go. The information collected in the second case is obviously more dangerous. What is more, custom and law have always recognized many kinds of privacy in public. For example, the press cannot publish pictures of most people in personally sensitive situations that have no legitimate news value. It is considered impolite to listen in on conversations in public. Pervasive face recognition clearly lies at the morally most problematic end of this spectrum. The chance of being spotted is different from the certainty of being tracked.

The phrase "reasonable expectation of privacy" comes from a US Supreme Court decision. The phrase has been widely criticized as useless, simply because reasonable expectations of privacy in a situation can disappear as soon as someone starts routinely invading privacy in that situation. The problem is an often-exploited ambiguity in the word "expectation", which can mean either a prediction (with no logical implication that the world morally ought to conform to it) or a norm (with no logical implication that the world actually will conform to it). In arguing in favor of a ban on automatic face recognition in public places, one is not arguing for a blanket "right of privacy in public", which would be unreasonable and impractical. Rather, one is arguing for a right against technologically mediated privacy invasions of certain types. Technological mediation is key because of its continuous operation, standardized results, lack of other legitimate purposes, and rapidly dropping costs.

The argument about free speech rights is spurious because the proposed ban is not on the transfer of information, but on the creation of certain kinds of electronic records. You still have the right to communicate the same information if you acquire it in other ways.


"Providing proper notice of cameras in public places is easy. In Europe, many public places are plastered with signs that read 'This area monitored by CCTV'. What is the problem?"
The phrase "This area monitored by CCTV" does not properly convey what the cameras can do, much less what will be done with the images that they capture. As cameras and their capabilities become more diverse, notifications will have to become either more detailed or more vague. Likewise with the expanding range of potential secondary uses.


"Automatic face recognition is not all bad. It has positive uses. For example, as the technology gets miniaturized you could put a device in your glasses to remind you of people's names when you meet them. No doubt our inventive society will come up with other positive uses as well. Don't stigmatize the technology as simply a tool of oppression."
The technology does have positive uses. At the outset I acknowledged some of the positive uses that don't involve involuntary scanning of people in public places. The argument is: (1) the positive uses in public places are outweighed by the dangers, (2) even the positive uses in public places generally involve scanning people without their consent, and (3) the positive uses that do involve people's consent can almost always be done just as well with alternative technologies that do not lend themselves so easily to abuse.


"You can't outlaw technology. The technology will get out there anyway."
This same argument, if it made sense, would work against any law. Outlawing murder doesn't mean that no murders get committed. By passing laws against murder, society expresses its views of right and wrong, creates a deterrent, gets people who commit murder off the street so they'll be less likely to murder again, and makes murder much more difficult and expensive. Automatic face recognition in public places is not as bad as murder, but the analogy is clear: outlawing it would express public disapproval of it and make it harder than it would be otherwise.


"The real solution is to make sure that everyone is subject to surveillance. Once society is completely transparent, the powerful won't be able to use technology for repression, because their repressive scheming will be under surveillance too."
This scenario is unrealistic and immoral. The powerful by definition are the ones with the greatest capacity to escape surveillance, and so even in the greatest possible epidemic of surveillance the powerful would be the last to succumb. A regime of total surveillance would itself be extreme repression, and because a large proportion of the population would resist it, it could only be enforced through extreme repression. Promising that the repression will be turned against the powerful as well resembles nothing so much as the repression of the ruling classes in the French, Russian, and Chinese Revolutions. I am a democrat and an egalitarian myself, but I recognize that a generalized repression is the worst way to promote those values.


"Automatic face recognition stops crime. Police say they want it. By automating some of their more tedious jobs, it will free them to allocate their limited resources more effectively. And if it prevents one child from being killed then I support it."
A free society is a society in which there are limits on what the police can do. If we want to remain a free society then we need to make a decision. Once a new surveillance technology is installed, it is nearly impossible to stop the slippery slope toward ever broader law enforcement use of it. The case of automatic toll collection makes this clear. Absent clear legal protections, then, we should assume from the beginning that any technology that captures personal information will be used for law enforcement purposes, and not only in cases where lives are immediately at stake. The potential for abuse should then be figured into our decision about whether the technology should be deployed at all. That said, it is hardly proven that face recognition stops crime, when face recognition is being added to a world that already contains many other crime-fighting technologies. The range of crime detection technologies available to the police has grown immensely in recent years, and even if one encountered a case where a crime was solved using a given technology it by no means follows that the crime would not have been solved equally well using some other technology. And even if face recognition causes additional crimes to be prevented or solved, that effect should be weighed against the number of additional crimes that abuse of face recognition makes possible.


"I've been in the military and the police, and if you had seen some of the things that I've seen then you would change your mind."
You don't know what I've seen. Besides, everyone knows, having been reminded daily by the news, that evil crimes are committed every day. The real problem with your argument is that, like the argument I just addressed, it could be applied to support giving absolute power to the military and police. But then, by definition, we would no longer be a free society. We need principled arguments about the place of government force in a free society, and my purpose here is to suggest what some of those arguments might be.


"Why are you anti-law enforcement? The only thing that's keeping you, your families and your property safe is a robust law enforcement system. Without law enforcement your belongings would be stolen in no time."
To speak in terms of pro- versus anti-law enforcement is a simplistic dichotomy. Society should relate to the police the same way that we relate to the military: of course we need it, but if it becomes the central organizing principle of our culture then we are in trouble. It is dangerous to create a government bureaucracy, in this case the police, and tell it, "your one and only job is to suppress crime, and to that end we will give you absolutely whatever you ask for". That is a recipe for authoritarianism, which in the long run is no better for the police than it is for anyone else. Democracy means reckoning balances, not choosing between extremes, and the argument here is simply that one particular technology, automatic face recognition used in public places, creates such powerful imbalances that a democracy cannot tolerate it.


"Your arguments are scare tactics. Rather than trying to scare people with scenarios about slippery slopes, why don't you join in the constructive work of figuring out how the systems can be used responsibly?"
The arguments in favor of automatic face recognition in public places are "scare tactics" too, in that they appeal to our fear of terrorism. But some fears are justified, and it is reasonable to talk about them. Terrorism is a justifiable fear, and so is repression by a government that is given too much power. History is replete with examples of both. Plenty of precedents exist to suppose that automatic face recognition, once implemented and institutionalized, will be applied to ever-broader purposes. The concern about slippery slopes is not mere speculation, but is based on the very real politics of all of the many issues to which automatic face recognition could be applied. My argument here is intended to contribute to the constructive work of deciding how automatic face recognition can be responsibly used. It can be responsibly used in contexts where the individuals involved have been provided with due process protections, and it cannot be responsibly used in public places. I fully recognize that literally banning automatic face recognition in public places is a major step. The reason to ban it, though, is simple: the civil liberties dangers associated with automatic face recognition are virtually in a class by themselves.


"Liberty is not absolute. It is reasonable for the government to curtail liberty to a reasonable degree for the sake of the collective good."
Certainly so. The question is which curtailments of liberty provide benefits that are worth the danger. The argument here is simply that automatic face recognition in public places does not meet that test.


"The technology doesn't create anything new. If the government wants to follow you around now, they get plain-clothes cops to do it. The technology may make following you cheaper, but it doesn't make anything possible that wasn't possible before."
That's true with most information and communication technologies, which people use to amplify forces that already existed in society. The argument against automatic face recognition is not that it creates something qualitatively new, but that it amplifies existing dangers, such as political repression, beyond a level that a democracy can tolerate.


"What are you talking about? Your face already is a bar code. Everyone's face is unique, and people can use your face to recognize you. That's all the technology does."
Well, obviously, to say that your face is not a bar code is first and foremost a moral statement. Your face should not be treated as a bar code. But in fact, you face really is not a bar code. When a person sees your face, that is different from a machine reading a bar code because the person who sees your face cannot easily communicate to a third party what the face they saw looks like. That is why the police need skilled interviewers with specialized artistic techniques to recover facial images from eyewitnesses. An automatic face recognition machine, on the other hand, computes a digital representation of your face that is easily communicated, compared, stored, and associated with other information. So the technology does something more than what people do. If several different people spot you in several different locations, then they cannot connect the different sightings unless they all know your name, or they are all shown a photograph of you, or your appearance is very distinctive in some way. Even then, the effort required to put the different sightings together is considerable. Machines can remember identities in industrial quantities, which people cannot do without special training, and they can assemble data across great distances much more quickly and efficiently than people can. The differences between human and machine face recognition, then, are so extensive that they cannot be treated as interchangeable.


"The evils that you envision are all speculative. This technology has not hurt anybody, and you can't go imposing a death sentence on it without evidence that it's dangerous."
The dramatic improvements in the underlying technology are hardly speculative. We know what technologies are in the lab, and we know roughly how long it will take before those technologies reach the market. We are therefore justified in extrapolating historical cost trends into the foreseeable future. The capabilities of the technology in the next couple of decades are hardly in doubt.

Nor can there be much doubt about the potential for abuse. We have abundant precedents from other technologies, and the burden is really on the person who would argue that automatic face recognition in public places will be an exception to these precedents. Databases will leak, technologies will exhibit function creep, information will be diverted to secondary uses, law enforcement will make use of technologies originally designed for other purposes, repressive governments will make use of technological advances pioneered in relatively free societies, and people's lives will be disrupted by quality control problems in the data. The argument here is not that automatic face recognition in public places will turn society into Orwell's 1984 overnight, or at all. The harms from automatic face recognition will develop slowly because the technology will not be deployed instantaneously, and because institutions change slowly. But the danger is great enough, and backed up by enough history and logic, and will be hard enough to reverse if it does materialize, that we are justified in acting now.


"When an automatic face recognition system produces a match, it is not the judge, jury, and executioner. If your name comes up wrongly, you'll be cleared in the same way that you'd be cleared after any other sort of mistaken identification. Automatic face recognition may not be perfect, but it's a lot more accurate than identification by human beings, and I don't see you trying to outlaw that."
As the cost of the underlying technologies drops exponentially, face recognition systems can easily become pervasive. As that happens, the number of opportunities for false identification will become pervasive as well. Identification by people and identification by machine cannot really be compared anyway because the conditions under which the police receive identifications from people and from machines are quite different. People can't easily be programmed to recognize large numbers of faces of people they have never met. And when a machine does produce a false match, the reputation of technology for accuracy will create a greater stigma than would a false identification by a person. In any event, the potential for false positives would not be a sufficient argument by itself against automatic face recognition in public places. Combined with the other strong arguments, it is one part of a decisive case against them.


"Privacy prevents the marketplace from functioning efficiently. When a company knows more about you, it can tailor its offerings more specifically to your needs. Of course if you ask people whether scary face recognition systems should be banned then they'll say yes. But you're asking the wrong question. The right question is whether people are willing to give up information in exchange for something of value, and most people are."
This is a non sequitur. Few proposals for privacy protection prevent people from voluntarily handing information about themselves to companies with which they wish to do business. The problem arises when information is transferred without the individual's knowledge, and in ways that might well cause upset or harm if they became known. What distinguishes automatic face recognition from many other equally good identification technologies is that it can be used without the individual's permission (and therefore without the individual having agreed to any exchange). That is why it should be banned.


"A preoccupation with privacy is corrosive. Democracy requires people to have public personae, and excessive secrecy is unhealthy."
Privacy does not equal secrecy. Privacy means that an individual has reasonable control over what information is made public, and what is not. Any decent social order requires that individuals be entrusted with this judgement. Even if particular individuals choose to become secretive in a pathological way, forcing them to change will not help the situation and is intrinsincally wrong anyway. As to the value of public personae, we should encourage the development of technologies that give people the option to appear publicly where and how they want.


"What do you have to hide?"
This line is used against nearly every attempt to protect personal privacy, and the response in each case is the same. People have lots of valid reasons, personal safety for example, to prevent particular others from knowing particular information about them. Democracy only works if groups can organize and develop their political strategies in seclusion from the government and from any established interests they might be opposing. This includes, for example, the identities of people who might travel through public places to gather for a private political meeting. In its normal use, the question "What do you have to hide?" stigmatizes all personal autonomy as anti-social. As such it is an authoritarian demand, and has no place in a free society.


For more responses to bad arguments against privacy, see:


Discussion of face recognition in the wake of the terrorist attacks.

comments advocating the use of face recognition in public places

Biometrics in Airports: How To, and How Not To, Stop Mahommed Atta and Friends

Biometrics: Facing Up to Terrorism

Biometrics: A Look at Facial Recognition

Passports and Visas to Add High-Tech Identity Features

Consistent Security Is Elusive Airport Goal

European Commission's Proposal on Biometric Identifiers|0|RAPID&lg=EN&display=

Viisage Director Takes Homeland Security Post

skepticism about face recognition's use for preventing terrorism,1284,56878,00.html,1294,54423,00.html,4586,5101223,00.html


News articles with background on face recognition.

Face-Recognition Technology Improves (March 2003)

Facial ID Systems Raising Concerns About Privacy (August 2001)

Smile, You're on In-Store Camera (August 2002),1294,54078,00.html

New Side to Face-Recognition Technology: Identifying Victims (June 2002)

Your Face-Scan Dollars at Work (August 2001),1282,46018,00.html

Facial-Recognition Tech Has People Pegged (July 2001)

Face Scanners Turn Lens on Selves (July 2001),1848,45687,00.html

article about a biometric industry public relations initiative (September 2001),1294,46539,00.html

How Facial Recognition Software Finds Faces (July 2001)

Law Enforcement Agencies Working on 3D Face Recognition Technology (September 1999)

Face-Recognition Technology Raises Fears of Big Brother (February 2000)

Smile, You're on Scan Camera (March 2001),1282,42317,00.html

Face Recognition Via Cell Phones (March 2002)


Other sites with background information on face recognition technology and its potential for privacy invasion.

Electronic Privacy Information Center Face Recognition Page

Coalition Declares December 24, 2001 to Be "World Subjectrights Day"

Facial Recognition Vendor Test 2002

Facial Recognition Vendor Test 2000

Selected Facial Scan Projects

US government site for biometric technology (including face recognition)

Facing the Truth: A New Tool to Analyze Our Expressions

the two dominant face recognition companies

The Many Faces of Viisage

other companies


Web pages about technical research projects on face recognition.

Face Recognition and Detection

Fully Automatic Upper Facial Action Recognition

DoD Counterdrug Program Face Recognition Technology Program

Handheld Face Identification Technology in a Pervasive Computing Environment

Wearable Face Recognition and Detection

Identification of Faces From Video

Evaluation of Face Recognition Algorithms

slides from an MIT course on human and artificial face recognition

Gesture Recognition Home Page (related technology)


Articles about face-recognition controversies in various places, roughly in reverse chronological order.

Borders stores

first Borders says it "suspended any plans to implement" face recognition ...,4125,NAV47_STO63359,00.html

... then it denies that it ever had any such intention

Borders is planning to use face recognition to identify shop-lifters


OPP uses secret cameras in casinos
("police are secretly scanning the faces of customers at all Ontario casinos")


Airport Anti-Terror Systems Flub Tests

Face Recognition Fails in Boston Airport

Logan Will Test Face-Data Security

Virginia Beach, Virginia

Virginia Beach Installs Face-Recognition Cameras

Oakland, California

Oakland Airport: "Smile for the Camera"

Huntington Beach, California

Imagis and ORION Chosen to Install Biometrics by Huntington Beach Police

Providence, Rhode Island

Airport Chief Reconsiders Face Recognition Technology for Green


SmartGate: A Face Recognition Trial at Sydney Airport

Passengers Secretly Filmed in Anti-Terror Trial


Colorado Governor Doesn't Want Face Recognition Technology Abused

Colorado Won't Use Facial Recognition Technology on Licenses


Security Face-Scanning Coming to Airport?

New York

Cameras to Seek Faces of Terror In Visitors to the Statue of Liberty


Nuke Reactor: Show Me Your Face,1294,54423,00.html

Super Bowl

Face Scans Match Few Suspects

ACLU Protests High-Tech Super Bowl Surveillance

Super Bowl Surveillance: Facing Up to Biometrics

Feds Use Biometrics Against Super Bowl Fans

Cameras Scanned Fans for Criminals

Jacksonville, Florida

Police Snooper Camera Fight Still Alive

Tampa, Florida

Tampa Police Eliminate Facial-Recognition System

Face Recognition Technology a Proven Farce

Facial Frisking in Tampa

"Big Brother" Cameras on Watch for Criminals

"They made me feel like a criminal"

Civil Rights or Just Sour Grapes?

Click. BEEP! Face Captured

Tampa Gets Ready For Its Closeup,8599,167846,00.html

Masked Protesters Fight Face Scans

Tampa Puts Face-Recognition System on Public Street

Tampa Scans the Faces in Its Crowds for Criminals

public radio report about the controversy

Ybor Police Cameras Go Spy-Tech

Palm Beach, Florida

Palm Beach Airport Won't Use Face-Scan Technology

Face Recognition Kit Fails in Florida Airport


Think Tank Urges Face-Scanning of the Masses

face recognition technology in the UK


Iceland Places Trust in Face-Scanning

Iceland's Keflavik Airport Upgrades CCTV System with Visionics' FaceIt